States’ Rights: Smoke Them Out

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and the ‘War on Drugs’ are as irenic as a kamikaze pilot, and just as stubborn. The disparity between federal policy and public approval of medicinal and recreational marijuana has, in the last decade, become a highly charged states’ rights issue.

The Trump administration has been a nervous period for the majority of Americans who support the easing of federal marijuana laws, or the drug’s legalization. In February, Sessions said at a Justice Department press briefing that while “States…can pass the laws they choose…it does remain a violation of federal law…whether a state legalizes it or not.” This ominously ambiguous warning has kept medicinal and recreational marijuana users, and the lucrative industry itself, in an anxious wait to see what Sessions, a long time opponent of the drug, will do.

Fortunately, this anxious wait has been somewhat alleviated, and not by marijuana itself, but by Congress. The new budget bill doesn’t provide any money for Sessions to fight against states’ marijuana laws. However, this decision seems to have angered the ancient relic rather than subdued him. Indeed, in a memo released last week, Sessions ordered the Justice Department’s lawyers to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” This is a reversal of the Obama administration’s policy to refrain from avidly pursuing methods that can “produce dramatically harsher jail terms.”

Sessions has decided that America’s unassailable lead in the race to incarcerate its citizens needs a boost. Considering the weight of evidence to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the ‘War on Drugs’ at curbing the problem of drug addiction, Sessions is either severely inept at his job, or simply hell-bent on locking up large swathes of the public; actually it’s both.

The War on Drugs

Chief General Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM Commander, once famously said that Desert Storm was successful “because we managed to go up against the only jerk on the planet who actually was stupid enough to confront us symmetrically, with less of everything, including the moral right to do what he did…” The War on Drugs has been drastically unsuccessful for the same reasons. Not only is an abstract war virtually impossible to win on the ground, but also, at least for marijuana, there are no grounds for war anyway.

In a continuing effort to support President Trump’s desire to emulate the highly-successful presidency of Richard Nixon – Sessions is continuing to reinforce the decision of disgraced Fmr. Atty. Gen. John Mitchell of the Nixon administration -who placed marijuana in the Schedule I category in 1972, under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The move to put marijuana on the Schedule I list was a combination of overt racism, New Deal reforms and bureaucratic self-interest, which is to say, monetarily inspired obstinacy. According to a 2016 article in Harper’s Magazine, Dan Baum revealed that in a 1994 interview with Nixon aid and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman, the ‘War on Drugs’ was a designed and considered political attack on Nixon’s two main enemies - the antiwar left and black people. “You understand what I’m saying?” said Ehrlichman, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Indeed, Nixon had appointed the Shafer Commission to prove once and for all that marijuana was an abusive substance. However, the Commission found instead that cannabis was no more dangerous than alcohol and recommended the ending of the prohibition. Unfortunately, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had been moved from the Treasury Department and merged into the Department of Justice under the stewardship of – you guessed it – Nixon’s ally John Mitchell, who went on to serve 19 months in prison for his part in the Watergate scandal.

In August last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) again decided against the reclassification of marijuana.“There is now a general sentiment among scientists” writes Professor Carl Hart of Columbia University, “that the failed war on drugs has biased the DEA against acknowledging any therapeutic potential for marijuana.” Indeed, despite the catch-22 the federal government has upheld in regards to marijuana research – suggesting not enough research is available, but not allowing such research to occur – scientists and medical experts agree - “the evidence shows the drug has many helpful therapeutic uses.”

Despite the fact that 29 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, acting administrator of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg described the idea to be “a joke.”  “Perhaps” suggests Professor Hart “it’s also a joke that a law-enforcement agency has the final word on a medical issue.”

It’s no brainteaser to discover perhaps why federal support for marijuana, despite the advocacy of the medical community, has been so continuously regressive. After all, the lobbying pockets of the pharmaceutical companies are very deep, a depth afforded to them by their excessive profits. Profits that would not doubt take a hit when people realise they’re being extorted for pills, when they could be growing their own medicinal products for free in their backyard.

A recent study found that physicians wrote significantly fewer prescriptions for painkillers and other medications for elderly and disabled patients who had legal access to medical marijuana. Marijuana is a significant monetary aid to Medicare as well – in 2013 alone, Medicare saved more than $165 million on prescription drugs in places where medical marijuana was legal. The study forecasts that if every state in the nation had legalized medical marijuana Medicare would save more than $468 million a year on pharmaceuticals for elderly and disabled Americans.

Of course, this is not just about money, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. “is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic.” Between 1999 and 2014, more than 165,000 Americans died from overdoses of prescription opioids. There are no recorded overdoses as a result of marijuana. A growing body of scientific studies supports the use of cannabis instead of prescription opioids. One of these studies, published in 2014, found that between 1999 and 2010, “states that permitted medical marijuana had an average of almost 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths each year than states where it remained illegal.” 

Sessions is not on the right side of public opinion in regards to marijuana, which is rapidly moving towards legalization. Just this week, Vermont’s legislature passed a measure legalizing marijuana use. While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has yet to sign the bill; the measure would make Vermont the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana, and the first to do so through the legislative process (other states have approved recreational use through ballot initiatives). If anything it is surprising Vermont has taken this long, especially considering its name translates to ‘green mountain’.

The idiotic and selfish interests of the Trump Administration are apparent in almost every inept policy decision they make. Moreover, the administrations’ patronizing excuses are about as believable as Trump’s tan – despite his strenuous effort to legitimize the claim by spending a quarter of his presidency at his Florida resort. Another glaringly demonstrable example comes from Trump’s climate policy, as exposed in a recent edition of Checkpoint.

The transparency of Trump’s transgressions are so egregious that they even deprive the public of what would be a litany of Frost/Nixon -esque exposures. For the time being however, the public and the states’ need to keep smoking out the regressives hovelling in the past. While Sessions and the DOJ will now pursue the harshest punishments for drug crimes within their power; they are significantly outnumbered. If one thing is clear so far, the current administration is too inept to properly fight off an unassailable enemy, Spartans they are not.